March 25, 2012
David's previous articles
(Melbourne) David's previous articles
50 Years on: Renewal or Retreat?
are nowadays hearing from both the Pope and local bishops calls for a profound,
interior spiritual renewal. There is nothing intrinsically new in this as it is
the permanent invitation of Christ’s Gospel: repent and believe in the Good News, ever old and ever new.
Benedict XVI, following the lead from his predecessors such as Pius XII and John
Paul II, has been urging Catholics to re-discover the sense of sin and a renewed
urgency to restore and build up right relationship with God. In his letter Porta
Fidei of October 2011, Benedict announced a Year
of Faith during which the Church will mark and celebrate the fiftieth
anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962. He wrote to the Bishops of the world,
Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified
so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous
adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as
humanity is currently experiencing. PF, # 6.
Benedict acknowledges that humanity is facing almost unprecedented challenges
and deep social, economic and political changes, he clearly believes that the
Church’s best response to a rapidly changing and often hostile world lies in
Catholics experiencing a deep spiritual renewal. The forces of erosive secular
relativism will only be challenged and defeated by a greater power emanating
from collective inner conversion and spiritual renewal. Given the dire
existential state of the Church today this bears examination.
in the face of charges, internal and external of the Church’s own blatant and
sinful hubris, dissembling,
institutional corruption and moral relativism, Benedict’s response is to deny
and refuse the suggestion, even demands, that the Church undergo a profound
change in the way it identifies as a structure, evaluates itself and the way it
governs. Benedict’s response suggests just how distant he is from
understanding the seriousness of the Church’s problems and what happens when
the apologia of the faith is reduced to the reactive ideological and poorly
planned counter attack,
Hildegard (of Bingen)
especially opposed the German Cathar movement. The Cathars - their name
literally means ‘pure’ – supported radical reform…of the Church,
principally to combat clerical abuses. She reprimanded them fiercely, accusing
them of wanting to subvert the very nature of the Church and reminding them that
the true renewal of the ecclesial community is not obtained by changing
structures so much as by a sincere spirit of penance and a fruitful journey of
conversion. This is a message we must never forget. –
General Audience, 10/09/10.
should we forget the word of Benedict’s itinerant echo, Fr Robert Barron, in a
recent interview with religion journalist/editor Barney Zwartz,
The way forward…is back to the basics,
simplicity, works of mercy, prayer and poverty, to faith, hope and love. … We
should be looking right now for the saints who pop up in times of crisis, as
saints like Francis, Dominic, Benedict and Ignatius did.
idea of profound ecclesial structural reform, however, extends beyond Hildegard
in the twelfth century. The reform
which really counts for Benedict was that of Gregory VII in the eleventh
century and given a modern makeover at Trent
and Vat I. In that perspective, it is quite clear that Vat II does not rate much
more than a Twentieth Century reaffirmation of the past and with nothing
profoundly important to say or to affirm even about a new vision. In an
affirmation of the immutability of the ecclesial structure and doctrine Benedict
recently told the twenty two new Cardinals that the leaders of the Church have
no real authority to alter substantially any more than what has already been
given, mandated and accomplished.
preparation for the Year of Faith
Benedict charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to draw up a
programme for the whole Church to follow. He was quite explicit and normative in
his instructions. He wanted the Catechism
of the Catholic Church to be the primary interpretative lens through which
Vat II would be viewed and evaluated. Just to demonstrate his continuity with
his beatified predecessor, he cites John Paul II as validation of his own
This Catechism will make a very strong contribution
to the work of renewing the whole life of the Church.
I declare it to be a valid and legitimate
instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.
What Benedict commissioned in Porta Fidei, Cardinal Levada and the CDF special committee dutifully delivered in its Nota which outlines the programme for the coming Year of Faith. It focuses on the renewal of ecclesial life and faith specifically by means of a renewed, updated apologetics and intensive indoctrination.
the gradual rejection of the notion of the
People of God, a central motif for ecclesial identity in Vat II, John Paul
II and Cardinal Ratzinger systematically dismantled the authority of the local
churches, episcopal conferences and any real notions of subsidiarity. With their
regressively authoritarian and centralised pontifical and curial governance, the
Church has been monumentally betrayed and demoralised. The catalogue of
catastrophes, culpable failures and the totalitarian pontificates of both JP II
and Benedict XVI may go on the record as marking the years from 1978 to the
present as the greatest disaster period in the history of the Catholic Church.
They have not only caused regression from Vatican II, they are both probably
guilty of grave material non-reception of that Council.
now Benedict and the Curia, to mask the disaster, have generated what might well
be perceived to be a spiritual smoke screen to blur out the spectacle of a
Church left little more than a shell. When faced with a catastrophe, they give
the faithful a Catechism……….
just five days after his election, John XXIII was thoroughly convinced that not
only was the world itself facing critical challenges and an unchartered future
but that the Church, to gain evangelical traction and present a credible
identity, had to expose itself to similarly risky challenges and plot its own
course in troubled waters. He confided in his private secretary, Don Loris
Capovilla, that something urgent had to be done in, with and for the Church, On
my table pour a lot of problems, questions and concerns. It would take something
new and singular, not just a Holy Year.
The Catholic Church got four holy years in succession, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Another is desperately needed but it won’t happen as long as there is instead an insistence on the need for hurriedly manufactured collective spiritual renewal to the exclusion and refusal of fundamental and systemic ecclesial reform.
If, in the view of the Pope and
the Roman Curia, the key to profound renewal in the Catholic Church is to be
sought in the Catechism, perhaps the local Churches might employ some more
imaginative and enduringly effective means to re-energise the People of God.
a national celebration of Vat II’s fiftieth anniversary, the Australian
Catholic Bishops Conference has launched a Year
of Grace – actually eighteen months beginning this Pentecost and
overlapping the Year of Faith. So far
the actual details are rather vague. In the promotional video, a number of
Bishops repeat a theme similar to that of the Vatican’s Year of Faith:
that it will be a time of deep reflection and personal renewal; that it will be
a kind of community retreat; a time to
step back from the ordinary and regroup. One bishop even suggested that there
was no set programme but a thousand opportunities offered themselves.
the most interesting, tantalising and challenging of these is that the Year
of Grace will offer Australian Catholics the opportunity to contemplate
the face of Christ and listen to him. Given imaginative structures these
themes might just take on the form of tangible and effective mechanisms for
ecclesial reform and renewal. Maybe
with feedback from the laity and the presbyterate, soon to meet for the National
Council of Priests conference, a greater measure of clarity will emerge and
realisable suggestions take shape.
might even be moved to pray that the Australian Catholic Bishops will see this
coming year as a golden opportunity to signal that in the immediate future every
diocese in this country will renew the old custom of holding its own canonically
established Synod. Maybe then our chief shepherds will have the opportunity to
contemplate the face of Christ in their own people and hear their
voice as His. At least this would acknowledge the Incarnation and that the
Church is a means not an end in the preaching and realisation of the Rule of
God. That could be just the evangelical jolt required and provide a real moment
of revelation, a point of conversion
and a source of lasting Grace for
bishops, priests and their people.
David Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria,